Interactive, multimedia sources provide far more stimulating environments than traditional textbooks. Images, video, and links to extra material can enthrall and overwhelm, but do all those extras really lead to enhanced learning?
Initial research has indicated somewhat disappointing results for the potential learning gains from media rich environments. One possibility is that students need strategies for learning in these situations, even more so than with traditional materials.
Research conducted by Roger Azevedo and Jennifer Cromley at the University of Maryland indicates that certain strategies for learning may well help. Their idea was that students who are trained in “self-regulated learning” would be able to use media rich environments effectively. Self-regulated learning means to pay attention to how well you are learning and adapt what you are doing when the learning is not going well.
Azevedo and Cromley gave students about 30 minutes of SRL training. The training described how to assess difficulty of the learning task, monitor ones’ understanding of the material, and other strategies for learning, such as activating prior knowledge.
One of the strategies for learning is to try to relate new information to past knowledge about the topic. For example, a student who is learning about the circulatory system with multimedia in a college class may be reminded of learning about the role of red blood cells from a high school science class. When this happens, it’s good to take a moment to try to remember more about the previous lesson, and how it ties in to the new information.
The researchers found that training students with strategies for learning improved the learning process and their ultimate understanding of subject matter in a multimedia environment.
They used a think-aloud procedure to assess how well the participants employed the strategies for learning taught to them. In a think-aloud method, study participants talk out loud, reporting on everything that’s going through their mind, as they undertake the primary learning task.
Transcripts of the verbal reports indicated that the trained students were more focused on their internal learning processes. They paid attention to how well their own learning was going. They also used the strategies for learning taught to them more often than students who received no training.
Students who did not get the training were more focused on aspects of the multimedia technology itself, and used relatively inefficient strategies for learning.
The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Educational Psychology, and the results provide encouragement to the possibility of training people to use sophisticated learning strategies to successfully understand complex information presented in advanced multimedia formats.
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Image credit: jess_mcculloch